“ Decoy (Jack Bernhard, 1946)
EM: Speaking of extraordinary female protagonists! Jean Gillie gives Ann Savage a run for her money as the meanest woman in the history of movies. Decoy is a picture that... either I get that thing on Noir Alley in 2022 or I quit! Because I am determined to get that movie seen by more people. It’s just insane. It’s a completely berserk movie.
Jack Bernhard, the director, and Gillie were married. He was a pilot and they met in England during the war. He brought her to Hollywood and this is one of the few films that she made. He directed another film that I really like, The Hunted with Preston Foster and Belita. Those are the two really good noir films on his resume.
If people are unfamiliar with Decoy, all I will say about it is the plot. There’s a gang of criminals and the loot from their heist has been buried, but nobody has the map to where the money is except this guy on death row who’s about to be executed. They have devised a way to resuscitate this man post-execution so that he can lead them to the money.
I’ve shown this film with Stanley Rubin, who wrote the script. Stanley would go on to become a very successful producer. He produced The Narrow Margin. But this is when he was starting out and Decoy was one of his first films. And he had such a good sense of humor about himself and his career that when I said, “Stanley, we want you to be our guest. We’re showing Decoy, he was like, “Oh my God! You’re going to show that film?” But he appreciated how great Jean Gillie is in that movie. What a shame that she died so young.
Imagine if they had made a film in which Lawrence Tierney’s character in Devil Thumbs a Ride meets Jean Gillie’s character in Decoy and they go on a crime spree together. That would be unreal. Not gonna see that, but we can dream.”
All well and good, then, but…if it’s still a stellar B deserving of a slot on Noir Alley, why the heck is it not getting any ink in the new edition of DARK CITY, the “revised & expanded edition” devised precisely to showcase films like it?
Well, at least now we know: it was a brain cramp.
A good way to compensate for that, of course, would be to start programming it again, specifically in the next in-person festival (which is supposed to be in DC this October).
One last thought: the movie Eddie projects as a great pairing of deranged lead characters (Jean Gillie and Lawrence Tierney) already happened. It’s called BORN TO KILL, with Tierney and a truly great actress (Claire Trevor) and its overall combination of characters provides depravity across the spectrum, from the low to the high and to all points in between, thus providing a lurid richness that easily outshines any possible coupling of merely caricatured evil.